Djokovic trains for Australian Open while awaiting visa decision

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MELBOURNE — Tennis world number one Novak Djokovic took to the court on Friday to train for the Australian Open while waiting to hear if Australia would cancel his visa for the second time, threatening his bid for a record 21st major tennis title.

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A relaxed-looking Djokovic has practiced his serves and returns with his entourage to an empty pitch at Melbourne Park, occasionally resting in a chair to wipe sweat from his face.

Djokovic, the defending champion, was included in Thursday’s draw as the top seed and was set to face fellow Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic in his opener, likely on Monday or Tuesday.

A decision to revoke his visa again due to COVID-19 entry rules could trigger a second court battle for the Serbian tennis star, after a court overturned an earlier revocation and released him from custody on Monday. his immigration detention.

Melbourne’s The Age newspaper quoted a source from Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Liberal Party as saying the government was “strongly inclined” to revoke the visa again.

Djokovic, a vaccine skeptic, fueled widespread anger in Australia when he announced last week that he was traveling to Melbourne for the Australian Open with a medical exemption from requirements for visitors to be vaccinated against the COVID-19.

Upon his arrival, the Australian Border Force decided his exemption was not valid and placed him in a migrant detention hotel alongside asylum seekers for several days.

Australia has suffered some of the longest lockdowns in the world, has a 90 per cent vaccination rate among adults and has seen a runaway Omicron outbreak bring nearly a million cases in the past two weeks.

Finance Minister Simon Birmingham told morning television on Friday that visa decisions lay with the country’s immigration minister, Alex Hawke, but the policy parameters of the government as a whole were “clear”.

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“That is, people entering Australia who are not Australian citizens should be vaccinated with a double dose unless they have a clear and valid medical exemption against it,” he said. he said on Channel 9’s Today Show.

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An online poll by media group News Corp found 83 per cent in favor of the government trying to deport the tennis star.

Greece’s world number four Stefanos Tsitsipas said Djokovic was “playing by his own rules” and making vaccinated players “like fools”.

“No one really thought he could come to Australia without being vaccinated and not having to follow the protocols…it takes a lot of guts to do that and put the Grand Slam at risk, which I don’t think a lot of players would do,” Tsitsipas said. in an interview with Indian news channel WION.

“Statistics indicate that 98% of players have been vaccinated and have done what they had to do to come and play and play in Australia,” he said.

POLITICAL IMPACTS

The saga has intensified the global debate over vaccine choice rights and has become a sensitive issue for Prime Minister Morrison as he campaigns for re-election.

Australia is due to hold an election by May, and while Morrison’s government has won national support for its tough stance on border security, it has not escaped criticism over Djokovic’s sloppy visa handling .

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However, fans, including many Serbian Australians, gave him vocal support during his detention, anti-vaxxers hailed him as a hero and his family described him as a champion of individual rights.

Melbourne’s committee, which represents business and business leaders, says the city’s reputation for hosting events has been damaged by the dispute.

“The Djokovic visa and vaccination saga has had a bad image from everyone involved, which is a tragedy given the excellence of our infrastructure and tournament planning,” the committee’s chief executive said. , Martine Letts, at The Age.

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